The World Health Organization is urging governments around the world to enforce stricter curbs on tobacco advertising, only weeks before new discussions in Geneva on global regulations for the substance’s control.

Stating that it aims to “protect the health of the young and the old, smokers and non-smokers alike,” the WHO is eager to ensure that recent industry attempts at self-regulation do not prevent the introduction of legislative controls.

“We know what works and what doesn’t,” declared the World Bank’s tobacco control coordinator, Joy de Bayer. “Voluntary codes have proved to be a failure. A World Bank–WHO study, on the other hand, found that interventions like comprehensive advertisement bans and price increases have a measurable and sustained impact on decreased tobacco use.”

Earlier this year, Philip Morris, British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco unveiled a voluntary curtailment of some forms of advertising and marketing, including restrictions on print, TV and outdoor ads and promotional events [WAMN: 11-Sep-01].

WHO director-general Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland warned governments to be alert and vigilant in the face of industry attempts to pre-empt legislation. The UN agency estimates that the number of people dying from tobacco-related diseases increased from 4 million in 1999 to 4.2m last year.

Continued Brundtland: “Three years ago when we started the process of negotiating the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), I said tobacco addiction is a communicated disease – communicated through advertising, promotion and sponsorship.”

The WHO also denies the industry’s claims that it is possible to root out youth-targeted marketing, pointing out that ads aimed at 18–24 year-olds tend to attract younger teenagers keen to associate themselves with the older age group.

Negotiations between 191 nations over the FCTC begin again later this month.

News sources: AdAge Global; WHO website